Thursday, 27 December 2018

Lake St Clair Short Walks (Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park)

A combination of three shorter trails, the Lake St Clair Short Walks combine the last stretch of the Overland to Riversmeet, the Platypus Bay Loop and the Larmairremener tabelti in a figure 8 loop. Featuring pleasant forest walking, highlights include the view at Riversmeet, the platypus hide along Lake St Clair and the beautiful section along the Hugel River. Recommended as an easy option for walking in the Lake St Clair area

Distance: 4.7 km (figure 8 loop)
Gradient: A mix of a relatively flat sections and some mild undulations
Quality of Path: Very clear and well maintained trail with constructed steps and boardwalks
Quality of Signage: Clear and easy to follow signage, with an informative trailhead. Some markers along the way, especially at trail junctions
Experience Required: No Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 1-2 Hours
Steps: Several throughout the walk; while not steep this is not wheelchair accessible
Best Time to Visit: All year for different experiences, except on very hot days or during severe snow or storms
Entry Fee: Yes. National Park Fees apply. 
Getting There: The trail starts at Lake St Clair. From Lyell Hwy, had east down Lake St Clair Rd to the main car park. The trailhead is located west of the main visitors centre

Having enjoyed our time at Cradle Mountain, Alissa and I had originally planned to drive back via Highland Lakes Rd to Hobart to complete a circular route on our west coast road trip. With the Cradle Mountain gift shop not stocking the Frenchmans Cap souvenir book 'Whose Bed am I Sleeping in?', Alissa and I decided to instead double back along the Lyell Hwy to visit Lake St Clair's visitor centre. While we didn't have time for anything substantial like the Mt Rufus Circuit, we had just enough time to fit in the 4.7 kilometre figure eight loop of the combined Lake St Clair Short Walks.

Starting at the info shelter west of the main visitors centre, the walk begins by following a section of track that was very familiar to Alissa and I. This is the final few kilometres of the Overland Track - or at least it is for the hardy few who actually walk the whole trail to Cynthia Bay rather than catching the ferry from Narcissus or Echo Point.

These last few kilometres of the Overland are perfectly pleasant but unremarkable Eucalypt forest along a fairly wide track that is suitable for vehicles. On our last visit these were fairly soggy kilometres so it was nice to see it in much more moderate weather. Along the way, a trail junction points towards the Larmairremener tabelti - an Aboriginal heritage walk that is included in the figure eight loop - however Alissa and I agreed that the best way to experience the walk is to continue straight ahead towards Watersmeet and save the Larmairremener tabelti for last as it is the best bit of the loop.

A side track along the way leads to the only campsite of the Overland Track Alissa and I had not visited - Fergy's Paddock. The last campsite of the Overland, Fergy's Paddock is one of the track's most spartan with few facilities other than a clearing, a box to place food and a table. This often soggy campsite is only really used by Overland Track hikers who can't afford/weren't able to book paid accomodation at the end of the walk as is considered a bit of a last resort.

While you cannot camp along the shore, Fergy's Paddock does feature a nice section overlooking Lake St Clair which makes an idyllic spot to sit and take it all in if you're staying here. For most hikers, I think the thrill of food and possible showers is enough to make them push on all the way, as Alissa and I did when we did the day from Echo Point to Cynthia Bay back in 2016.

Back on the main track, the walk starts to head towards denser and more lush forest as it reaches Watersmeet.

Last time Alissa and I were here, Watersmeet was basically the indicator that we were on the home stretch as it is the last bridge along the Overland.

The view from the bridge is outstanding, as the aptly named Watersmeet is where the Cuvier and Hugel River meet just before emptying into Lake St Clair.

On the other side of the bridge, Alissa and I left the Overland to follow the Platypus Bay track. As we walked down the track, I turned to Alissa and said; "hey, I think when we were here last I made a bad joke that we should add the Platypus Bay loop to our walk as a side trip". Alissa laughed and agreed that she remembered that, and that at the time it was definitely a hard no from her for us to do the extra kilometres!

As with Fergy's Paddock, the Platypus Bay loop features some nice sections along the shore of Lake St Clair. The area is called Platypus Bay as it is one of the more reliable places to spot a platypus in the wild.

For this purpose a hide wall has been installed to allow visitors to wait it out and spot one in action. Unfortunately these shy animals are most active at dusk and dawn, and with it being the mid-morning, our chances of spotting one of these monotremes was slim to nil.

Continuing along, the track passes a lovely secluded beach along the lake that is a perfect spot for a swim on a warm day.

An interesting feature of this area is the remains of a wrecked barge along the shoreline. The white buildings in the distance are the decidedly fancy Pumphouse Point hotel where Alissa and I stayed when we finished the Overland Track.

From the beach it is a short walk back to the Overland Track. Turning right would lead to Echo Point, while turning left leads back to the bridge at Watersmeet.

Back across the bridge, Alissa and I started the last section of the loop - the Larmairremener tabelti.

This is easily the nicest part of the short walks. The track heads along boardwalks as it passes through lush forests along the Hugel River.

The views along the rocky riverbed and excellent, and Alissa and I stopped regularly take it all in.

A short distance along the Larmairremener tabelti, a bridge across the river leads to the longer Shadow Lake and Mt Rufus Circuits. These much more substantial walks are the main trails in this area, and the Mt Rufus walk has been on my bucket list since we did the Overland (mainly because I find the name Rufus slightly comical).

Just a short distance further upstream from the bridge is a small waterfall or cascade just off the track. This lush area was really lovely and made the whole walk worth our while.

With the Larmairremener tabelti being an Aboriginal heritage trail, it was nice to see the artistic signs that are found along the track. When Alissa and I did the Overland, we were surprised at how little Indigenous interpretation was provided along the walk compared to trails in Western Australia, with the story book located at Meekadarabee Falls on the Cape to Cape Track being the best example. These signs tell the story of the Aboriginal people who lived in this area, their connection to land and how the arrival of Europeans impacted on their way of life.

The track heads away from the river through some dry schlerophyll forest. The walking here is pleasant enough but not quite as pretty as the section along the river.

The area has experienced fires in the recent past, including a fire started by an Overland Track hiker who was trying to burn toilet paper. The burns have created some hollowed out trees like the one above. They make excellent photo opportunities, even if they are not quite as impressive as the massive buttressed Tingles such as the Giant Tingle in Western Australia.

As well as dry forest, the track also crosses some swampy sections on boardwalk that were nevertheless dry at the time of our visit. The constantly changing environments makes the walk interesting; as soon as you are starting to feel like things are getting a bit samey, the forest type change slightly.

The second of the information signs appears along the track near a clearing with excellent views of the tall Eucalypts.

This sign is probably the most harrowing the four as it talks about the indigenous experience dealing with the early European settlers. It is pretty sad reading, and a reminder of how severely treated the people of the area were.

Continuing along the track, the trail passes through a section this lush with bright green ferns.

The penultimate sign talks about fire ecology, and is aptly located near a Buttongrass moorland.

Buttongrass is notorious for being super flammable, and is one of the reasons a lot of areas in Tasmania are fuel stove only. Amazingly, these plants are often found not too far away from plants that are very poorly adapted to fire, such as the Gondwanan pines and rainforest species.

The final sign appeared to be the start of the track, suggesting that Alissa and I had gone the 'wrong' way. However, while this may be the preferred direction for the signage, we agreed that it was better to get the Platypus Bay section completed first and doing the heritage trail last.

The track widens as it reaches a lovely grove of trees. Just beyond here, the Larmairremener tabelti joins back onto the Overland Track for the return stretch back to the trailhead at the information shelter.

Before heading off, Alissa and walked the the Overland Track to its southern trailhead. Walking past the cafe, we were delighted by all the happy faces of hikers just finishing their own Overland Track journey, which I'm sure would be just as life-changing an experience for many of them as it was for Alissa and I given that we've been back to Tassie twice since then!

I wasn't expecting anything particularly adventurous on the Lake St Clair short walks, however I was surprised at how much I enjoyed them. While definitely more low key and less outstanding than its counterpart - the Dove Lake Circuit at Cradle Mountain -  the combined short walks are a perfectly pleasant stroll that provide a bit more perspective on the area around Lake St Clair.

And with this, Alissa and I completed our last walk of our December 2018 Tasmania trip, which incidentally was also our last walk for 2018. Here's to the coming adventures of 2019!

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